COLUMBIA, Mo. — A Missouri soldier was forced out of the Army after he was charged with murder in the death of an Arkansas woman, then turned himself in to authorities weeks later after learning of Army plans to sue the soldier and his family for false imprisonment, court documents say.
Army officials announced last week that all remaining soldiers involved in the investigation into the June 2016 death of Jessica Runions were discharged.
Reece Gibson, 23, of St. Louis, was charged last year with first-degree murder in the death of the 21-year-old Runions, whose remains were found in a Columbia, Missouri, landfill. Her vehicle was found at Gibson’s apartment. Authorities had said Runions had gone with Gibson, his boyfriend, to visit a friend who died. But after they were arrested, authorities say Gibson admitted to a police detective that he strangled Runions and then disposed of her body.
But by October, investigators and Defense Department lawyers learned that officials with the Army Criminal Investigation Command were investigating Gibson for an alleged cover-up. According to military documents in the case, Gibson told his parents in September 2016 that he was scheduled to turn himself in at a Missouri prison for the alleged crimes — crimes they now allege that they believe involved Runions.
Investigators had gathered a crucial eyewitness statement, Gibson told them, that allegedly implicates him in the slaying. A warrant in the case, obtained by The Washington Post, alleged that Gibson killed Runions “by use of hands and/or a ligature” in the street, then moved her body before placing it in a black Acura vehicle and driving to Columbia. Gibson’s parents have said their son told them the killing happened in a garage somewhere.
When asked about the civilian witness’s accusation, Gibson’s father, Gene Gibson, said in a statement, “Our family is pleased that Mr. Gibson will have the opportunity to clear his name. We are aware of who our son is and we wish everyone the best as they prepare for the Army’s prosecution against our son.”
“And this is a closed case for us,” he added.
Gibson’s attorney, Jim Martin, did not return messages seeking comment.
A copy of Gibson’s summons says federal court in Missouri seeks to determine if he was “the driver of a vehicle which was used for the disposal of a body.” It says that he and his girlfriend “murdered” Runions and that “this defendant then concealed the body in a waste container” before moving it to Columbia. Martin later said that the summons means that a grand jury indicted his client on one count of murder.
Defense lawyers representing soldiers accused of a crime, such as rape, can mount a legal defense to the charge by arguing that the prosecution based its case on evidence that might not have stood up at trial. U.S. military officials — including Army lawyers in Washington — view prosecuting the soldiers charged in Runions’ death as part of the investigation.
The charging documents say that Gibson’s accuser in the murder charge was an Arkansas woman who worked as a prostitute.
Prosecutors previously charged Eric Pettaway, 22, of St. Louis, with involuntary manslaughter in Runions’ death. Pettaway allegedly drove Gibson from Arkansas to Columbia to pick up Runions.
Pettaway, however, has not been charged with murder, and his attorney, Scott Rosenblum, has not responded to requests for comment.
After that arrest, prosecutors revealed that Pettaway’s mother — a woman whom the military had identified as a witness in the case — had given a detailed description of Runions to authorities without any memory of being involved.
“The assumption that what I described to the police has anything to do with the crime is unfounded,” Runions’ mother, Tiffany D. Johnson, said in a statement last October.
Earlier this year, Pettaway’s mother, Tiffany R. Moore, was also charged with perjury in the case. And prosecutors are pursuing charges against Sterling Ballard, 22, of Columbia.